With the company still searching for a new CEO, Chairman Lewis Platt took it upon himself this week to visit Capitol Hill and try to improve relations with Congress.
WASHINGTON — Boeing Chairman Lewis Platt came to Capitol Hill this week to mend the fences that former Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher did not fix before his ouster last month. It is unusual for a board chairman to do political lobbying personally, but these are unusual times for Boeing.
While the board searches for a new chief executive, Boeing projects such as the multibillion-dollar Future Combat Systems contract are being batted about by critics in Congress. Lacking a CEO who can address their concerns, Platt evidently decided to engage key lawmakers himself.
The itinerary included Platt’s first meeting with Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, and with Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who chairs the subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee that oversees defense contracts.
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Platt also saw Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Tuesday and yesterday attended a lunchtime fund-raiser for her at a well-known Capitol Hill political hangout, La Brasserie.
Platt’s plate was full. His schedule also included Washington’s other senator, Democrat Patty Murray; Missouri’s two Republican senators, Jim Talent and Kit Bond, whose state has a big Boeing presence; and other politicians whom Boeing declined to name.
Yesterday morning, Platt and Boeing’s top D.C. lobbyist, Rudy deLeon, met with Dicks and emerged smiling, though they declined to comment on the meeting or Platt’s D.C. visit.
Afterward, Dicks said he was pleased Platt “understands quite well how soon his board needs to move on naming a new CEO.”
One of Dicks’ main concerns is that Boeing continue to support the government’s attempt to stop the European Union from subsidizing Airbus, an effort he termed crucial to continued commercial-aircraft production in the Puget Sound area.
“Our situation with the World Trade Organization is a critical issue,” he said.
Dicks added that, “In the past, Boeing has been somewhat reluctant to get on board with us” in taking the issue of Airbus subsidies to the WTO. This time, he said, “Boeing is finally where we are on this, and I don’t think they are going to back away.”
He and Platt also discussed whether the Air Force will finally begin a bidding process for new refueling tankers later this year. The company’s original deal to build tankers was canceled after Boeing improperly hired the Air Force official overseeing the contract
“Boeing is gearing up for a competition here” with Airbus, said Dicks.
The Pentagon’s official paper on the need for new tankers has not been issued yet. The government has requested an additional study on the corrosion of the existing KC-135 tankers before it seeks bids from defense companies.
“They [the Pentagon] are trying to make this bullet-proof this time,” Dicks said.
He added that once a contract is proposed, he intends to raised issues about Airbus’ rights to bid for it. “How do you let someone compete in this deal when the WTO says they have violated trade agreements?” he asked.
Boeing’s executive tour group also stopped in to meet Weldon, who last month raised potential problems with Boeing’s largest defense contract, the Future Combat Systems projects, worth about $15 billion to the company.
But the politician Platt most needs to win over, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was not on his schedule.
Boeing spokespersons declined to say whether Platt plans to meet the company’s most vocal critic anytime soon.
McCain’s Armed Services subcommittee will host a hearing today on procurement issues, certain to trigger references to the tanker contract scandal and former Boeing executives who have left the company or are in jail.
Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Air Force increasing Lockheed oversight
The Air Force is modifying some contracts with Lockheed Martin to increase government oversight of the C-130J transport program, the service said yesterday. The C-130J is one of Lockheed’s top three military aircraft programs.
The Air Force announcement marks the second time in a week the military has modified the contract terms of a major Pentagon program after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., suggested oversight was lax. The Army announced similar changes last week to Boeing’s $21 billion Future Combat System program.
The Lockheed announcement came the day before McCain is to convene a hearing of a Senate Armed Services Committee subcommittee he chairs that’s reviewing Air Force acquisition programs, including the C-130J.
Lockheed Martin spokesman Thomas Jurkowsky said the company “understands and supports the decision, and we look forward to being a part of the group that will have this responsibility to work out a converted contract.”